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Ingram: Final Le Mans Thoughts Are Good Ones

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, June 14 2010

Le Mans is over for this year but the future should be exciting for American fans of the sport. (Photo courtesy of the American Le Mans Series)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief:

Le Mans, France – After an impressive victory by Audi Sport, the countryside around the circuit of the 24 Hours of Le Mans has returned to the more gentle hum of tractors punctuated by the ever-present chirping of birds in place of the constant din of racing engines. In the relative quiet, there’s plenty to mull after this year’s race.

According to the usual reliable sources, it looks as if American fans will be able to see the principal protagonist from Le Mans twice next year. Audi Sport and Peugeot Sport are expected to participate in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup events scheduled for the 12-hour race at Sebring and the 1,000-mile event of the Petit Le Mans.

(It should be pointed out that Peugeot and Audi are already committed to the Petit Le Mans this October at Road Atlanta.)

In 2011, the French and German companies will bring the new generation of Le Mans prototypes outlined by the new rulebook revealed this past weekend. That means less emissions and noise, better fuel mileage and something the automotive industry can find useful.

Having left behind temporarily a comic black opera in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s welcome news that a branch of motor racing is dedicated to tackling head-on environmental issues in a manner that suggests real results as well as compelling racing such as that witnessed this past weekend.

One of many impressions left by the gigantic opera known as Le Mans is this: once it’s over one never doubts the car in front deserved to win. It’s tough enough just to get to the finish of a race that is super fast for so long. Incroyable!

Having seen it for the first time 28 years ago and despite having worked the race a dozen times since then, I still get blown away by the demands made of an undertaking like Le Mans.

It seems perfectly normal that a culture known for more than a bit of hubris would host an event like this. I wonder if the upcoming Intercontinental Le Mans Cup may be too big of an undertaking by the relatively small organization that runs Le Mans known as the Automobile Club de l’Ouest. The ILMC calls for major endurance races around the globe and is a de facto world championship.

That will be hard to manage while maintaining the more local branches of the American Le Mans Series, the Le Mans Series and the fledgling Asian Le Mans Series. It will not be a welcome development in the eyes of the FIA, the official sanctioning body for all world championships. But should it succeed, fans around the world will be able to see the same combatants that gather at the Circuit de la Sarthe each year in June.

The American presence in Le Mans is expanding just as the export to the U.S. is gaining momentum. Honda Performance Development, a subsidiary- of American Honda, has introduced a customer engine for the LMP2 category, a 2.8-liter V-6 turbo that is designed for the new era of rules.

Given that three LMP2 teams used the 3.4-liter engine built by HPD this year, it’s likely that HPD will find a market for these engines. The Strakka Racing team won the LMP2 category, Highcroft Racing challenged for the lead much of the race and the RML team eventually took third on the podium under power from HPD’s 3.4-liter V-8.

The rules call for normally aspirated fuel engines to be limited to 3.4 liters next year and smaller displacement for turbos. It remains to be seen if HPD decides to return next year with an LMP1 program in conjunction with American-based Highcroft Racing. Team owner Duncan Dayton says, “I intend to come back next year in LMP1 and for many years after that.”

If Dayton’s motive power is the same brand, this will require approval from Japan as well as American Honda, one imagines, but the situation has a very positive air about it after such strong performances this year. It remains to be seen which engine would be used in an LMP1 program, should it occur.

In all cases, American fans have much to look forward to when it comes to major endurance races.

Quotes of the Week:  “Endurance racing is the vanguard.” Pierre Fillon, director of the rules committee for the Automobile Club de l’Ouest.

See ya! …At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, June 14 2010
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